Editorial: Delegat case - system must resist rush to judgment

Nikolas Delegat in the Dunedin District Court. Photo / Otago Daily Times
Nikolas Delegat in the Dunedin District Court. Photo / Otago Daily Times

The sentence given to Nikolas Delegat for assaulting a policewoman has been widely condemned. The 19-year-old was sentenced to 300 hours community work for his brutal attack on Constable Alana Kane and ordered to pay $5000 emotional harm reparation. The assault knocked her out and she needed 15 hours' treatment in Dunedin Hospital. She was off work for two months.

An alcohol-fuelled Delegat hit Kane at least four times on March 26 last year. In the same incident, Delegat attacked a security guard at the University of Otago campus and lashed out at arresting police officers. He first appeared in court five days after the attack when he was charged with the aggravated assault of Kane, an offence carrying a maximum sentence of seven years' imprisonment.

For many months afterwards, Delegat, the son of winemaker Jim Delegat, sought name suppression through the courts, taking his case as far as the Court of Appeal. Generally, only those with substantial resources can afford to go down that legal route.

The Appeal Court dismissed Delegat's suppression case last November and the case went back to the Dunedin District Court in June, when the aggravated assault charge was downgraded to assaulting a police officer with intent to obstruct her in the execution of her duty. The offence carries a three-year jail term.

Delegat admitted the charge but this week Judge Kevin Phillips rejected his plea for a discharge without conviction for what he termed "a very serious assault". The judge also was critical of Delegat's approach to a restorative justice conference, saying the teenager had 18 months to do something about it.

Critics of the sentence complain it is too light. Greg O'Connor, president of the Police Association, said if Delegat had been poor and brown and from South Auckland, he would have gone to jail. Labour MP Stuart Nash wants Crown Law to appeal the judgment.

The fact remains that Delegat was convicted, and that his suppression bid failed. At an early hearing in June last year, when he first sought suppression, a judge rejected the application, describing the case as "entirely ordinary".

Delegat's pursuit of suppression ensured it became anything but ordinary, and the publicity and his sentence is a burden he must bear. His lawyers argued a conviction could affect his opportunities to go overseas but that is a price he will have to pay. This is how New Zealanders expect their justice system to operate. It is not available for rich people to buy and there would be justifiable outrage if there was evidence that offenders were getting different treatment according to their ethnicity and wealth.

Delegat is a first offender, and his sentence does not appear out of line, whatever the Police Association might have to say. Critics of the sentence were not present for the hearing, and do not possess all the facts. It is appropriate that decisions of the courts get public scrutiny. It is just as appropriate that the system resists any rush to judgment.

- NZ Herald

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